In January of 2006, the proposal for the new Yankee Stadium nearly died. In a New York Times piece entitled “A Bronx Cheer,” they discuss the intense opposition from the community and the Bronx borough council over the $800 million proposal to build a new Yankee Stadium adjacent to the old one. One resident, Ernesto Maldonado, said "We've never benefited from the stadium, and we don't believe we'll ever benefit from it." Another resident, a community board member named Mary L. Blassingame, said “If they had been a good neighbor, they would not have put this plan through."
The reason for this sentiment was obvious. Firstly, the Yankees received a massive tax break. According to the Times, “...the Yankees have agreed to pay for the cost of the stadium, the team would not pay rent, property taxes or sales tax on construction. The city would spend up to $135 million on replacing and improving local parks; the state would provide about $70 million for four new parking garages and low-interest financing.” Why did I say replace the local parks? That’s because to build the Stadium, the Yankees had to reclaim 25 acres of public parkland.
So, the Yankees offered an olive branch. In March of that year it was reported by the Times that the Yankees, in exchange for the obvious concessions by the people of the Bronx, would create a Yankee Stadium trust fund worth $28 million, and they would use that to provide 15,000 free tickets every year to local youths, and they would provide aid to the local community, distributing money out of the fund until 2046.
The people of the Bronx still weren’t convinced. Lukas Herbert, another member of the community board, called the charity a “slush fund” that “...is going to be controlled by the Bronx political machine -- the very people who sold out the community in the first place.” Herbert was removed from the board because of his opposition to the proposal.
The first inkling of trouble regarding this fund came out in 2008—once again from the Times. The report said that despite the Stadium only a year away from being built, not a penny of the fund had been distributed, and the committee in charge had not even met to discuss it. They hadn’t even registered as an official charity, and the panel didn’t have a leader.
That’s a lot of preface, which brings us to now. A lot has changed for the franchise in that decade—a new Stadium, a new World Championship, a lot of new players, and a ton of new revenue streams. Has any of that newfound revenue actually made it back into the community? No, and who had that recent report on the matter? You guessed it: the Times.
According to this report, and it’s even more scathing than the previous ones, this charity was not only a slush fund, rewarding the people who ran the fund itself, but very little of the money from it actually made its way into the local community.
I’m just going to select some choice quotes, and you be the judge.
The money never went to the Bronx...
“Of the $6.8 million distributed by the fund between 2008 and 2015, the last year for which records are available, only 30 percent — $2 million — went to charities occupying the same ZIP code as Yankee Stadium or four bordering ZIP codes.”
...and it rewarded people with close connections to city officials.
“A six-person board of directors controls all grant-making decisions. Michael Drezin, a former administrator of the fund who unsuccessfully sued it for mismanagement in 2009, said board members were chosen because of their connections to elected officials.”
It’s essentially a hotbed for political corruption:
“In a sworn complaint sent in November 2009 to the state attorney general at the time, Andrew M. Cuomo, Mr. Drezin claimed that Mr. [Serafin] Mariel’s [the chairman of the fund] interest in the fund was ‘self-directed.’ When pressed on the issue recently, Mr. Drezin said he recalled ‘at least two or three instances’ of Mr. Mariel offering grant money to organizations that promised to do business with his bank, although he could not provide specific examples.”
All of this speaks for itself. The bait-and-switch is that because this was a fund with the Yankees’ own money, the city could not compel them to pay it or to direct where it should go, because it isn’t a public fund. They did approve the proposal under the assumption that the organization would actually help out the community, substantially, which wasn’t really true at all.
The Bronx, as we all know, is an economically depressed area. Nearly a third of residents live below the poverty line, and the median household income hovers just north of $20,000. Meanwhile, the Yankees stole public parks that these people use, sucked money out of the community and funneled it out of the area and into the pockets of city officials and their friends. They also got the city to provide massive tax breaks for a property that likely offers little financial benefit in terms of real income and better jobs for the residents.
This issue isn’t just in New York. In Atlanta the Braves built a new ballpark in Cobb County, a move that was seen by critics as a white flight move to an area with wealthier residents and a community willing to fork over cash. And in Arizona, the Diamondbacks are holding Maricopa County hostage to give them taxpayer money to revamp the stadium, or else they will leave. We’ve also seen this in professional football, with teams like the Rams and Raiders threatening to leave, and then doing so.
New stadiums are a Trojan horse. What seems like a boon for the community is in fact a boon for the real estate developers, contractors, city officials, and ownership, and not for anyone who actually lives there. In New York this is also compounded by the fact that the Stadium itself catered more to wealthy fans with fewer cheap seats and more luxury boxes for corporations, and more space for corporate advertisers while the people who live less than a mile away would have to forfeit a day’s pay for a decent ticket.
The Yankees not only owe the people of the Bronx an apology, but a massive check. Not only should they be obligated to pay out that money within the surrounding ZIP codes, but they should compensate for the money they haven’t paid out already. They should expedite the rebuilding of the local parks, and commit to building even more to compensate for the delay. They should disband the fund’s board, and select one without any conflicts of interest.
The city, state, and freaking federal government should make it illegal for taxpayer money to pay for stadiums, and there should be no olive branches next time. In a time where income inequality is at an all-time high, where massive swaths of urban poor surround a singular point of obscene wealth, Yankee Stadium stands at the center of that storm, its creator and beneficiary.